North Dakota’s fall duck flight is expected to be up 9% from last year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said Monday, Aug. 3, based on results from the annual mid-July duck production survey.

This year’s duck brood index was comparable to last year’s estimate and showed 4.5 broods per square mile, 52% above the long-term average from 1965 through 2019, the department said. The average brood size also was similar, at 6.8 ducklings per brood.

Conditions for observing the birds were better this year among most wetland types, but observers still struggled with getting good looks on most routes, said Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck.

Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor, North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor, North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

“Obstructed views by emergent vegetation is typical, but was slightly more problematic than average this year,” Szymanski said. “Routes in the northeast had recently received heavy rains, rewetting temporary and seasonal basins that had dried up during spring and expanded other waters into emergent and upland vegetation. These heavy rains likely affected brood distribution and negatively impacted nesting ducks using cover that had recently dried this spring, whereas over-water nesting species did quite well.

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“The northeast region, known as having marginal or secondary habitat for upland game, most likely had duck nests lost due to flooded conditions because low-lying, previously wet areas likely represented some of the only nesting cover in many areas of this region in June.”

Despite inconsistent rainfall with little spring precipitation, Szymanski said the July survey showed duck production was quite good across most of the state.

“Renesting efforts in the northeast part of the state should remain strong to help balance lower early season dabbling duck production in that region this year,” he said.

Water index also up

Observers also count water areas during the July duck brood survey, and this year’s water index was up 11% from last year and 49% above the long-term average. Wetland conditions were stable to declining across most of the state, except for the northeast region and other smaller, isolated areas, Szymanski said.

“Generally, numbers and conditions of wetlands were fair to good on most routes, and very wet on our four most northeastern routes, starkly contrasting routes in the north central and central parts of the state that were fairly dry,” he said.

Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey in mid-September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.

The summer duck brood survey involves 18 routes that cover all sectors of the state, except west and south of the Missouri River. Biologists count and classify duck broods and water areas within 220 yards on each side of the road.

Game and Fish started the survey in the mid-1950s, and all routes used today have been in place since 1965.